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Vehicle Maintenance: Tips For Saving Money

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If your company runs one or more vehicles in conducting its business, you already know that vehicle maintenance can be an expensive drain on your bottom line. For most companies it’s not possible to zero out vehicle maintenance. For instance,some manufacturers specify oil with detergent additives. If your company’s vehicles are under warranty, failure to follow manufacturers’ recommendations for regular checkups and upkeep could void your warranties. Fuel filter changes are also important after the 15,000 mile mark, especially for diesel engines, according to Craig Norris, senior analyst for Vehicle Technical Consultants, Inc., based in Lake Elsinore, California.

Nonetheless, there are strategies your company can employ to make its vehicles run as efficiently – and inexpensively – as possible.

Employing Proper Measurement Standards
Road failures provide a useful metric for determining if your company’s maintenance protocols are up to par. Checkups of oil, coolants and heating systems can serve as indicators of potentially larger problems within your company’s fleet. Depending on how your company uses its vehicles, measuring engine hours versus mileage may provide a more accurate means of determining wear, according to Norris.

“Fleets may sit idle for hours each day,” he explained.

Keeping track of predictive maintenance schedules is another means of allocating funds to vehicle maintenance in the most efficient manner. For instance, an alternator often fails after 100,000 miles. Once a vehicle’s alternator reaches that milestone, regular cost/benefit analysis comparing the costs of towing vehicles with alternator failures versus the cost of replacing the alternators can determine whether replacements are called for, Norris explained.

This type of cost/benefit analysis can be applied to any vehicle element with a determinable life. Today’s technology makes it possible to maintain robust databases to structure schedules for ordering parts and performing strategic maintenance. The key is establishing and maintaining an extensive database of your company’s vehicles and their individual maintenance schedules, according to Norris.

“It’s all about data,” Norris said.

Small Steps, Big Savings
Adopting simple strategies can significantly extend the useful life of your company’s vehicles. Regular maintenance is often overlooked. Improper tire inflation can interfere with proper braking and cause uneven wear. Driving habits can also have a significant impact on how well and how long your company’s fleet is able to remain on the road. Norris also recommended a moderate driving style, much like the driving style advised for personal vehicles.

“Especially for larger vehicles, rapid starts and stops put vehicles under quite a bit of stress,” he said.

Vehicles contracted with government contracts or departments are often required to use higher octane fuels to adhere to strict federal regulations. But for companies that don’t do business with the government, savings are possible by using lower octane fuel in company vehicles. Higher octane fuel is cleaner and makes vehicle engines run more smoothly, but as long as vehicles run well using a lower octane fuel, you’re probably OK, according to Norris.

Depending on the nature of your business, holding off on repairing cosmetic damage is another area where saving money is possible. For example, construction firms often overlook nicks and dents on their working trucks. Other companies adopt a strategy of replacing, rather than repairing vehicles in their company’s fleet, according to Norris.

“Some companies use a business model of buying cheap vehicles and running them to death because it’s cost efficient (due to depreciation write-offs),” Norris explained.

Getting What You Pay For
But Norris cautioned against focusing exclusively on the bottom line. Instead, companies should research the longevity and quality of specific parts in comparison with the prices to find the proper balance. Maintaining vehicles in top condition may involve a higher up-front investment, but pay off down the line by ensuring that a company always has a sufficient fleet of vehicles in good working order.

“Cheaper is not always better, “Norris warned.

Focusing on Your Company’s Core Business
Especially if your company’s primary function is in an unrelated area, in-house vehicle maintenance may be an unnecessary expense, even for large companies. One of Vehicle Technical Consultant’s biggest clients, Google, contracts out the maintenance of its fleet of vehicles used to transport employees between their homes and company headquarters.

“Google figured it was in the Internet business and not the fleet maintenance business,” Norris said.

Audrey Henderson

Posted In: ACCA Now, Money, Vehicles & Fleets

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